Friday, July 15, 2011

Pope Sixtus V: Every true Bonaventurian must defend Scholasticism

July 15th, Feast of St. Bonaventure
On 3 May 2010, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the legacy of St. Bonaventure at his customary Wednesday Audience (this was the first of three audiences which would be dedicated to the Seraphic Doctor). The Holy Father recalled the memory of the disciple of St. Francis with great tenderness: “Today I would like to talk about St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. I confide to you that in broaching this subject I feel a certain nostalgia, for I am thinking back to my research as a young scholar on this author who was particularly dear to me. My knowledge of him had quite an impact on my formation.”  (See the whole text here)
Together with St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure has come to symbolize the Scholastic period of theology. Sadly, Scholasticism has come under no small amount of ridicule in recent days. Some Catholic theologians have gone so far as to claim that the Church has moved past the “old theology” of the medieval schools and has adopted a “new theology” for the present day. The proponents of this “new theology” have the intention of “razing the bastions” – that is, destroying (rather, dismissing) the traditional distinctions developed by the Scholastic doctors.
Certainly, any true Bonaventurian (as well as any true Thomist; indeed, any true Catholic) would abhor such a notion. Below, we reproduce selections from the Bull Triumphantis Hierusalem (from 1588) of Pope Sixtus V, in which St. Bonaventure is officially elevated as a Doctor of the Church. In his praise of the Seraphic Doctor, Pope Sixtux V also promotes the Scholastic theology which St. Bonaventure so well personified.
[The text below is entirely from Pope Sixtus V. We apologize for the rather difficult wording which was common to that age. We have tried to bring attention to certain points with our emphases.]

 St. Bonaventure declared a Doctor of the Church
Truly among those most blessed choirs of Saints, whose memory is celebrated by all the faithful with a merited religious cult, there shines forth in distinguished splendor the order of holy Doctors eloquently. […] Truly already among these [doctors], whom the great Lord willed to fill with a spirit of intelligence, and whom each one has sent forth the utterance of his wisdom like a shower upon the Church of God, is St. Bonaventure numbered, as a Confessor, a Pontiff, and a exceptional Doctor in the same Catholic Church.
Inflamed in such great sweetness and fervor of divine love, his spirit was so rapt in God, that already as one introduced into the wine cellar of the Spouse and drunk with the best wine of charity, he seemed to gaze everywhere upon Jesus Christ Crucified and Suffering, and to dwell in His wounds. Truly to this exceptional holiness of life did this man of God join the great praise of outstanding doctrine, with God so disposing, so that for His glory and the utility of the Church, he would not only make very great progress in example, but in word and erudition.
A disciple and teacher of Scholastic theology
When, in the study of the Sacred Letters, the reading of the holy Fathers and in the very necessary discipline of Scholastic theology, having been employed most diligently by Alexander of Hales, the distinguished theologian of that era, for a brief space of time, with the goodness of surpassing genius, by assiduous labor, and what is chief of all, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, who molded him on all sides as a golden vessel for a chosen honor, he made such progress and arrived at such perfection of doctrine, that decorated in solemn custom with the distinctions of a Master in Theology in the frequented lecture hall of Paris, he taught sacred theology publicly in the same place.
Truly did he attain such great praise in the gift of interpreting and in the science of all theology, that the most learned men admired his doctrine and erudition. And indeed there are extant many, moving and very bright writings of this holy man, which still are of great utility to the Church and are not mediocre, by the benefice of God, everyone of which both erudite men, of Our age and ages past, have read with much fruit and very entirely approved, so great was he in theology, that they declare him sufficient. For he left those monuments of his divine genius to those who would come after him, by which questions, very difficult and involuted with many obscurities, are explained methodically and in order, straightforwardly and lucidly, with a great bounty of the best arguments, the truth of the Catholic Faith is illustrated, pernicious errors and profane heresies are overthrown, and the pious minds of the faithful are admirably inflamed to the love of God and the desire of the celestial fatherland.
For there was in St. Bonaventure something preeminent and unique, so that he stood out not only in subtlety of arguing, in facility of teaching, in cleverness of defining, but he excelled in a certain divine strength of thoroughly stirring up souls. For in writing with the greatest erudition he so conjoined an equal ardor of piety, that he would move the reader by teaching and it would sink into the recesses of the soul, and then he would prick the heart with certain seraphic stings and it would pour forth with a wonderful sweetness of devotion.
The need for Scholastic theology in times of doctrinal confusion
The utility of the universal Church moves Us, which can be always more and more richly captivated by the erudition of such a Doctor, especially when the ambushes and the diabolical machinations of heretics, by which they oppose most vehemently in this sad age that sacred theology, which is called Scholastic, admonish Us greatly, that We should retain, explain, and propagate this same [Scholastic] theology, as something which nothing can be more fruitful for the Church of God.
For with the divine gift of Him, who alone gives the spirit of knowledge (scientia) and wisdom and understanding, and who furnishes His Church throughout the lifetimes of generations, as is needed, with new benifits, and who provides Her with new supports, there has been discovered by Our ancestors, most wise men, Scholastic theology, which by two Doctors glorious above all, the angelic Saint Thomas, and the seraphic Saint Bonaventure, the most brilliant professors in this capacity, and first among those, who have been registered among the number of the Saints, with excellent genius, assiduous study, great labors and vigils have refined and decorated it, and have passed it on, to those who would come after, optimally arranged and in many ways very clearly explained.
Truly in these last days, in which already there has come those dangerous times described by the Apostle, and the blasphemous, proud, seductive men who advance to what is worse still, erring and sending others into error, this [Scholastic theology] is necessary to sensibly confirm the dogmas of the Catholic Faith and confute heresies.
And the state of affairs is such, that the judges are the very enemies themselves of the truth, by whom Scholastic theology has become dreadful to the greatest degree, who scarcely understand, by that apt and inner connected coherence of things and causes, in that order and arrangement, as by the training of soldiers in fighting, with those lucid definitions and distinctions, by that firmness of arguments and the sharpest disputations, that light is distinguished from shadows, and the true from the false, and their mendacity, involuted with many deceptions and fallacies, like a vestment borne away, is brought to light and stripped bare.
In as much as therefore as these men [i.e. the heretics] begin to fight and overturn this most fortified citadel of Scholastic theology, so much more does it befit us to defend this unconquered defense of the Faith, and both to conserve and keep safe the inheritance of Our fathers, and to embellish, as much as we can, the keenest defenders of the truth with merited honors.


Anonymous said...

I love St. Bonaventure and would love to read his books but I have no idea where to find them so that I might borrow them.

His friendship with St. Thomas Aquinas is, for me, the most poignant friendship from among our saints. And I always think how good God is to have given them each other - a kindred soul is hard to find and a great gift and blessing in this life.


Anonymous said...

An explanation of how Scholasticism arose can be found in the book entitled Church History by Fr. John Laux. A very interesting read that tells how Scholasticism and Mysticism 'go hand in hand'.
Your article furthur explained to me the role it plays in refuting heresies. Thank you Reginaldus.

Anonymous said...

Scholastic theology is great and has served the Church well. However, it is not to be revered to the point where it leads to discounting Magisterial teachings that have come after the Middle Ages. This can potentially lead to idolatry or even border on heresy.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are very right!

However, I don't know of too many cases where the great scholastic doctors (i.e. St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure) have taught things that have later been condemned.
There is, of course, the Immaculate Conception (which both Doctors rejected) and a few points about the sacraments (like whether ordination to priesthood is at the prayer of ordination or the handing over of the instruments) ... but very few scholastic points have been rejected by the Magisterium of the Church.

In any case, if we want to understand the current Magisterium, we will have to know St. Thomas Aquinas (and, of course, Bonaventure) very well -- the Angelic Doctor is by far the most cited author in the Catechism.

In any case ... I hope that my example will serve well in this regard ... I cite constantly from the Fathers (esp. Augustine), the Scholastics (esp. Thomas), the counter-reformation theologians (esp. Cornelius a' Lapide), and the Catechism.
I see all these in a great harmony!

Generally speaking, it is the rejection of the Scholastics that leads to heresy, not their promotion!
Peace to you. +

Lee Faber said...


You can find many translations of Bonaventure's works for sale from the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University (it should come up easily enough on a google search). They have translated some of his more famous works, such as the Journey of the mind in God and his disputed questions on the Trinity, and I think they have also started translating his biblical commentaries.

Anonymous said...


Thank you. That is good to know. I will check it out.


Chatto said...

Veronica, I know what you mean about their friendship. I like to imagine the joy of their respective 'Holy Fathers', Francis and Dominic, who were also fast friends, seeing the friendship between their two 'sons'!

Anonymous said...

Chatto, I have thought of that too! How very gracious of Our Lord to provide for our very human needs in such a practical manner!


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